Should we be concerned about Tua Tagovailoa not knowing the playbook?

After an up-and-down rookie season in the NFL, Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa recently was quoted in a press conference saying things such as: “I’d say in every aspect – getting to the line of scrimmage, getting that order of operation down, my cadence, pre-snap reads, my post-snap reads. Just the whole shebang with that. I felt I wasn’t comfortable during my rookie year. So I’m just working on a lot of those things in Year 2 to be better.”

Wait, there’s more. Tua: “I’d say it’s still a work in progress with all of those things – having the guys hear my cadence, getting the order of operation of hearing the play call in the huddle, getting to the line, shifting guys, moving guys and getting everyone in the right spot. I still think that’s something that I’ve got to continue to work on.”

And maybe most concerning from Tua:

“Actually, what I’m saying is that I didn’t actually know the playbook necessarily really, really good; and that’s no one else’s fault but my fault. Our play calls were simple when I was in. I didn’t have alerts and checks whereas now, feeling more comfortable, I can kind of maneuver my way through these things now.”

Tua Tagovailoa said what? Adding further context to the Dolphins QB’s comments

This is alarming and concerning to hear from a potential franchise quarterback. However, let’s further consider the circumstances Tua was working under just a year ago. First off, Tua was recovering from a hip injury that he suffered against Mississippi State on November 16, 2019. This type of injury is often associated with car crashes, and many questioned Tua’s health situation when the Dolphins drafted him with the fifth overall selection.

Then, of course, COVID made its impact on the NFL. Like all rookies, Tua didn’t have as many advantages as players in previous years as he acclimated to the NFL. Namely, there were zero preseason games and an extremely shortened training camp, not to mention the teaching was done via Zoom calls rather than actually on a football field. This certainly affects a quarterback more than other positions.

When the season rolled around, it was clear that Miami had an average (if we are generous) group of pass catchers to go along with one of the league’s worst running back and offensive line circumstances. Brian Flores went back and forth between Tua and Ryan Fitzpatrick — the Dolphins finished the season 10-6 and very much in the playoff hunt to the end. That was some masterful work by Flores. Considering the state of Miami’s roster, Dolphins fans should be thrilled that Flores is the one in charge of this team and the current Tua situation.

Tua’s rookie season for the Dolphins

On a yards-per-play basis for the year, Miami’s defense allowed .6 more yards than the Dolphins offense produced. Only the Falcons, Jets, Jaguars, and Bengals were worse. But only two teams were superior in turnover differential, and Miami’s 29 turnovers created on defense were the most in the league. With all respect to Flores’ ability to confuse the opponent and his attacking defense, it is doubtful that Miami creates more turnovers than the other 31 teams again in 2021.

Much of the struggles fall on Tua as well. He was often overly conservative and hesitant as a rookie. But we also don’t know how he was being coached. Miami wasn’t going to win shootouts. Playing it tight to the vest gave Flores’ team the best chance to succeed last year. That isn’t to excuse Tua, who often looked robotic and uncomfortable. Still, Miami’s best chance to win hinged on their ability to win the turnover battle (which they usually did).

After getting his first start in Week 8 against the Rams, Tua attempted 23 more throws in 2020 than Fitzpatrick but completed just 3 more passes. Fitzpatrick threw 2 more touchdowns but also 3 more interceptions. Yet, what stands out is that Fitzpatrick’s 7.8 yards per attempt dwarf the 6.3 that Tua posted. That needs to change for Tua to succeed in this league. Also, let’s not forget that Tua just recently turned 23 years old — Fitzpatrick will turn 39 during the upcoming season.

Reading between the lines

Several teams (the Eagles, Giants, amongst others) took a similar approach to Miami this offseason. Those teams banked some future draft picks as a huge insurance policy, but they also surrounded their young quarterback with a new wealth of receiving weapons.

Miami signed Will Fuller as well as drafted Tua’s college teammate, Jaylen Waddle. These are two of the fastest players in football, and their presence alone should open up the Dolphins offense and alleviate pressure on the second-year quarterback. Presumably, this will help Tua push the ball down the field more regularly and with better success.

Fitzpatrick will now be starting in Washington, but the Dolphins did bring in Jacoby Brissett, which is more than nothing. Brissett is one of the best backups in the league — and might be much more than that if given an opportunity. Miami wouldn’t be in bad hands at all with Brissett leading their offense.

Tua’s comments were concerning, and without question, this is already a make-or-break season for him. But we also shouldn’t overreact, considering all this young man has overcome in the last year or so. Here’s a little secret, though — every rookie quarterback is swimming, whether they actually admit it or not.

Let’s not overreact to an interview in late May. There are concerns, but there is also hope for Tua yet, and the context he operated in must be taken under significant consideration when evaluating this young quarterback.

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